Merry Clinchmas!! The Nationals have clinched their fourth (and second consecutive) NL East division championship! All eyes are now on the stumbling Dodgers and whomever claws their way to the top of a lackluster NL Central. Let’s take a look, then, at how the Nationals will likely shape their Division Series roster.
The DS only necessitates three starters. Game one obviously goes to Max Scherzer, game two will be handled by Stephen Strasburg, and game three will go to Gio Gonzalez. Scherzer is
in the running for (read: the frontrunner for) the NL Cy Young Award. Stephen Strasburg now holds the record for consecutive scoreless innings by a Nationals starter (34) and has been dominant since coming back from a DL stint. Gio Gonzalez has the best ERA of any pitcher in baseball since the All Star Break.
I’d put these three up against any other team’s top three starters and like my chances.
Tanner Roark gets demoted to the bullpen in a short series, but he always takes it like a total pro. He can come in as a long man in relief, or if the team needs four outs, etc. He’s been there before and he’s been effective.
Edwin Jackson was a surprise pickup to me, and he’s been a really effective starter this season. I know him because he was on the St. Louis Cardinals back in 2011 when he came out of the pen. He’s been through a complete postseason and won it all before, so he’s a great option to help this team do it.
Then we have the 7/8/9 monster of Kintzler, Madson, and Doolittle. Thank goodness for these pickups, because the team needed a bullpen shakeup more than anything.
The rest bullpen is so up-and-down, I vote for a four-man bench with an extra bullpen arm. With six roster spots remaining, who else do we take? My suggestion:
- Matt Albers (I dunno, I just root for this guy for some reason.)
- Oliver Pérez (Again, the rest of the bullpen is basically “who do I trust to suck the least?” Ollie can do a good job filling the lefty specialist role.)
- Sammy Solis (He’s doing alright recently. Not a guy I’d want to put out for more than one inning.)
- Matt Grace (Another lefty.)
- Joe Blanton
- Shawn Kelley
I chose Shawn over Enny Romero and A.J. Cole because I think the Nationals need experience more than anything. It’s what they’ve lacked each time they previously made it to the DS. Now they have Jackson and Madson, both of whom have World Series rings, in addition to some other bullpen guys who have already seen the bright lights of the postseason.
The Starting Eight
1B: Ryan Zimmerman - precious cinnamon roll who deserves the world and finally stayed off the DL for an entire season.
2B: Daniel Murphy - does this even need an explanation? In 86 postseason plate appearances, he’s hitting .351 with a .662 slugging percentage (That’s not a typo.) and seven home runs.
SS: Trea Turner - he missed two months of the season and still has the third-highest amount of stolen bases in the NL. He plays above-average defense, he’s speedy, and also Anthony Rendon’s favourite player. (#GoodLifeChoices)
3B: Anthony Rendon (MVP! MVP!)
C: Matt Wieters - quiet, effective, capable of hitting homers and throwing out runners.
RF: Bryce Harper - (See: Anthony Rendon)
CF - Michael A. Taylor
Us: A sac fly will tie it.— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) September 9, 2017
LF: Say what you will about Jayson Werth, but I’ll take his postseason experience over any of our other left field options. He sets the tone for the club, he’s a leader on and off the field, and he’s consistently top-five in baseball in average pitches per plate appearance. Also, his beard is too fabulous to be benched.
Howie Kendrick was great mid-season pickup for the Nationals. I admit, I was skeptical when he first arrived. It felt a little lackluster for a team that needed a serious slugger.
Then Howie came, stole our hearts with his first (walkoff) grand slam, and now he’s part of a division championship ball club. Also a great addition to a roster of easily punnable names:
THIS IS HOWIE DO IT!— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) August 29, 2017
Kendrick unloads the bases! pic.twitter.com/x5PWcKJ25M
Adam Lind has been the third-best pinch hitter in baseball this season of everyone with at least 25 pinch-hit plate appearances. That .333 average is exactly what you want in a guy who has to come up clutch in a pinch hit situation. (Dusty, just please don’t play him in left field. I cringe every time he’s out there.)
Backup catcher, José Lobatón, is on the bench if for no other reason than post-homer helmet removal duties. (Bring it back, José!) Also, let’s not forget that clutch three-run homer in game two of last year’s NLDS.
Finally, we have my problematic fav, Wilmer Difo. Problematic because I want him to play but there is nowhere to put him! He has played in 105 games this season with time at each of the following positions:
- Second base (nineteen games)
- Shortstop (fifty-five games)
- Third base (four games)
- Left field (two games)
- Center field (one game)
- Right field (two games)
He has significant infield experience and can be used in the outfield in a pinch. He hits lots of singles, but he’s very speedy and an effective bunter. Difo is a versatile player and he’s earned a spot on the postseason roster. (And a place in my heart.)
The Twenty-Sixth Man
Probably the least-enviable position in postseason play. Who gets to travel with the team knowing that, if all goes well, they will never set foot on the field? In my opinion, it’s Alejandro De Aza. He has done such a good job since being called up and the Nationals outfield has more rotating parts than a merry-go-round on a carousel. If somebody goes down, it’s probably going to be an outfielder and De Aza has been a good fill-in.
Here’s hoping this team has a long run and that WMATA agrees to keep metro open this time.
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Audrey Stark is a Contributor at Federal Baseball. You can follow her on Twitter @highstarksunday.